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As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner




_____ 1. The major themes of As I Lay Dying are
    I. the uselessness of words when separated from action
    II. the control the living have over the dead
    III. the individual's isolation from others within a community
    A. I, II, and III
    B. II and III only
    C. I and III only
_____ 2. Addie married Anse in hopes of -
    A. finding someone to support her
    B. having someone break through her shell of solitude
    C. testing her ability to withstand hardship
_____ 3. Jewel's name symbolizes the fact that he is -
    A. the product of a costly transgression
    B. Addie's favorite child
    C. modeled after Hester Prynne's daughter Pearl
_____ 4. Cora Tull accuses Addie of the sin of -
    A. pride
    B. lust
    C. anger
_____ 5. A major difference between Anse and Cash is -
    A. Anse suffers in silence, Cash suffers aloud
    B. Anse suffers aloud, Cash suffers in silence
    C. Anse is selfless, Cash is selfish
_____ 6. After Darl's birth, Addie made Anse promise to -
    A. never get her pregnant again
    B. stop risking his health by overworking
    C. bury her in Jefferson
_____ 7. Anse agreed to have Darl committed to the insane asylum because he -
    A. wanted to avoid paying for Gillespie's barn
    B. feared that Darl might harm Anse's new wife
    C. agreed with Doc Peabody that Darl was insane
_____ 8. The son whose actions justified his mother's faith in him was -
    A. Cash
    B. Vardaman
    C. Jewel
_____ 9. Rachel Samson and Lula Armstid are both outraged by -
    A. their husbands' lack of hospitality toward the Bundrens
    B. the way the surviving Bundrens treat Addie's corpse
    C. Anse's trading the horse of Addie's favorite son for two mules
_____ 10. Darl's most unusual power is his ability to -
    A. convince the family to work together
    B. observe scenes that take place miles away
    C. make even his closest relatives wish him dead

11. How might Addie's attitude toward her children at their birth shape their attitudes toward her at her death? -

12. How does Faulkner use Whitfield and Cora Tull to advance the theme that words divorced from experience are worthless? -

13. What views do the townspeople and country folk hold of each other? -

14. Discuss the surviving Bundrens as examples of what Peabody means when he says that death is "merely a function of the mind- and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement." -


_____ 1. Anse wants to go to Jefferson to -
    A. fulfill his promise to Addie
    B. get some false teeth
    C. both A and B
_____ 2. For Cash, making Addie's coffin is -
    A. a chore he finds hard to perform
    B. the way he shows his love for his mother
    C. both A and B
_____ 3. Faulkner uses people outside the family as narrators in order to -
    A. provide an objective view of the Bundrens
    B. suggest the presence of a Greek chorus
    C. give the Bundrens the chance to bounce their ideas off other people
_____ 4. Vardaman at first blames his mother's death on -
    A. a fish
    B. the Tulls' horses
    C. Doc Peabody
_____ 5. The sulphur in the air around the Bundrens' home suggests -
    A. death by fire
    B. the underworld in Greek and Christian myth
    C. the presence of a nearby sulphur mine
_____ 6. Addie had Dewey Dell and Vardaman in order to -
    A. make amends to Anse for having Jewel
    B. violate her aloneness
    C. provide some insurance against old age
_____ 7. The buzzards that follow the Bundrens to Jefferson act as a reminder and a symbol of -
    A. death
    B. the Bundrens' isolation
    C. both A and B
_____ 8. The secret that Dewey Dell tells Vardaman not to reveal involves -
    A. Addie's affair with Whitfield
    B. Dewey Dell's pregnancy
    C. Darl's setting Gillespie's barn on fire
_____ 9. When he marries the second Mrs. Bundren, Anse inadvertently fulfills Cash's goal of -
    A. eating a bag of bananas
    B. bringing a graphophone into the house
    C. replacing his mother
_____ 10. Jewel expresses himself best through -
    A. language
    B. silence
    C. action

11. Discuss Faulkner's view of women in As I Lay Dying. -

12. How does Faulkner use Greek myth in the novel? -

13. In what ways could As I Lay Dying be described as a comic novel? -

14. What events show Jewel the way Addie describes him to Cora: as her "cross" and her "salvation"? -


  1. C
  2. B
  3. B
  4. A
  5. B
  6. C
  7. A
  8. C
  9. B
  10. B

11. The way Addie felt about her children at their birth is mirrored in the way they feel about themselves and her. Reread Addie's monologue (section 40) to refresh your memory about her feelings. She loved Cash, her firstborn. She rejected Darl, thinking him the unwanted product of unfelt love. Jewel, her favorite, was the result of her life's major passion. She had Dewey Dell, Addie says, to "negative" Jewel, and Vardaman "to replace the child I had robbed [Anse] of."

Cash responds to her love with a symbolic offering of love: the coffin which he made so carefully. (See sections 1, 12.) Rejected by Addie, the "motherless" Darl wonders if he exists and perpetuates a sibling rivalry with Jewel.

Jewel, the symbol of her passionate affair with Whitfield, responds to her death with passion. In section 4, he has a fantasy of being her violent protector. He rescues her body twice (sections 36 and 50).

Dewey Dell seems moved the least by Addie's death, perhaps because Addie conceived of her only as an object- something to negate Jewel. Vardaman, who was conceived as a replacement for Jewel, in turn replaces Addie- in his mind, at least- with a fish. -

12. Review Addie's monologue (section 40) for her view of words as an inadequate substitute for experience. To see how Whitfield separates words from experience, reread Tuff's report on Addie's funeral (section 20) and Whitfield's monologue (section 41). Like Whitfield, Cora relies on Biblical injunctions to guide her thinking. As Addie says, she uses words whose meaning she has never experienced and can therefore never truly understand. In sections 2 and 6, and especially in section 39, Cora spouts the empty rhetoric that Addie despises. -

13. You can find examples of the conflict between townspeople and country folk throughout the novel. Note Cora's resentment of the way the town lady's canceled orders for cakes dominates her thoughts in section 2. In section 28, Anse complains about "them that runs the stores in the towns... living off of them that sweats."

Note also the interaction between the Bundrens and the townspeople. Moseley (section 45) sees Dewey Dell as someone from another world. When the wagon reaches Jefferson (section 52), the conflict nearly turns violent as Jewel reacts with blind rage to what he takes to be an affront to his mother. The conflict extends the theme of isolation amid solidarity by showing that groups of people are separated from one another just as individuals are. -

14. Review Peabody's first monologue (section 11) to nail down his view that death is a state of mind- something that affects the thinking of the survivors. Then list the many ways that Addie lives on in her children's and husband's thoughts. The promise she made Anse give dictates the novel's action- the arduous journey to Jefferson. Jewel and Darl continue their sibling rivalry even after Addie's death. Jewel sacrifices his horse for his mother's wish. Vardaman gropes for a reason for her absence and decides she has changed into a fish. Only Cash and Dewey Dell have no obsession with her memory. Yet Cash suffers a broken leg for her. Dewey Dell is too self-absorbed to express any feelings for her mother's death after her anguished outburst at Addie's deathbed (section 12). Yet she too endures the hardships of the journey to get her mother's corpse to Jefferson. -


  1. C
  2. B
  3. A
  4. C
  5. B
  6. A
  7. C
  8. C
  9. B
  10. C

11. In As I Lay Dying the lives of country women are hard, as several characters point out. (See especially Peabody, section 11, and Rachel Samson, section 29.) Faulkner makes us care about all the women in the novel, even the most comic or fatuous of them, like Cora Tull, and even Addie and Dewey Dell in their vengeful moods.

These women are not simple creatures. Faulkner makes them as complex as any of the men, who inhabit different worlds than the women- a fact reinforced by the bewilderment with which Tull, Samson, and Armstid confront their wives.

But women- especially Dewey Dell and Addie- represent an elemental life force. In different ways, they represent fertility, the earth, motherhood. Some readers feel that Addie, Dewey Dell, and Cora, taken together, are meant to represent Persephone, the goddess of spring (new life) and thus of fertility, and queen of the underworld. (Cora's name is derived from Kore, another name for Persephone.) Dewey Dell's name identifies her with the earth, as does her shape. (See the closing lines of sections 14 and 37.) Try as they might, these women cannot alter their roles as earth mothers. -

12. Faulkner uses ancient myth as a backdrop to his story in order (1) to suggest a mythic dimension to his characters' lives and actions, (2) to provide a yardstick to measure their actions with, and (3) to provide clues to his characters' natures.

The mythic dimension is suggested by the novel's title, from Homer's Odyssey, which brings to mind Odysseus's epic journey and indicates there may be more to the Bundrens' funeral cortege than meets the eye. Odysseus visited Agamemnon in Hades, where the dead king complained about his wife's scorn for him as he lay dying "on the road to Hades' house." Faulkner suggests also that the Bundrens' farm is a sort of sulfurous underworld (sections 10, 14, 17). Later (section 33) there are hints that the swollen and menacing Yoknapatawpha River is an obstacle separating the land of the living from the land of the dead, much like the River Styx. Is Addie then a symbol of fertility, a sort of Persephone-queen of the underworld who left Hades every spring to permit flowers to bloom and grain to grow again? Perhaps. Some readers think that Cora, Addie, and Dewey Dell are a composite of Persephone and Demeter, Persephone's mother and another goddess of fertility. However, the end of Addie's journey is simply another "underworld"- the cemetery in Jefferson. So, in the end, Faulkner pulls the rug out from under those who think he is simply recycling old myths in modern dress. Still, he has borrowed some of the trappings of the myth- the concept of an underworld, of women as symbols of fertility, of the river as a mythical place- and in so doing has made his characters and their acts seem "larger than life."

If reference to myth makes the Bundrens larger than life, it can also be used as a yardstick to make them seem smaller than their mythical counterparts. Suppose, as some readers feel, Addie, Dewey Dell, and Cora are a composite of the fertility goddesses Demeter and her daughter, Persephone. Demeter and Persephone were responsible for giving life to all vegetation. When Persephone was in Hades, held captive by Pluto, no crops grew, no flowers bloomed. Measured against Demeter's and Persephone's powers, Addie's powers to create and sustain life seem puny indeed.

Myth can be used to indicate traits of characters in the novel. Darl constantly refers to Jewel's wooden features- his "wooden" back, his "wooden" face. Some readers feel that Faulkner is calling attention to Jewel's Dionysian nature- a mixture of virility and cruelty. (See note in the discussion of section 1.) In section 3, Faulkner hints that Jewel is at once a centaur (half man, half horse) and Bellerophon, the rider of the winged horse Pegasus, who defied the gods. What these references to three different myths have in common is the message that Jewel is a godlike, masculine figure who is unpredictable and committed to action. -

13. In As I Lay Dying, Faulkner treats horror matter-of-factly. This tactic is so unexpected, even though he uses it again and again, that the result is invariably comic. Note Tull's description in section 16 of the way Vardaman bored through the coffin lid into Addie's face. Or Moseley's account of the way the women of Mottson scattered when confronted with the stench of Addie's putrifying body (section 45). The total effect is of American folk humor. As I Lay Dying has much in common with the tall tale. (See discussion of section 16.)

Another type of humor Faulkner uses frequently is irony- saying one thing and meaning another. Irony takes many forms in As I Lay Dying. MacGowan (section 55) thinks he's quite a sophisticated rogue, but his poor grammar, undemanding job, and fear of getting caught mark him for what he is- a small-town wise guy. Anse chastises his sons for behavior disrespectful to Addie's memory, while he can't wait to reach Jefferson, buy some teeth, and get a new wife. Even some of the references to Greek and Biblical myth are ironic. Anse likens himself to Job- a most laughable comparison. If Addie is Persephone, Anse is Pluto- the lord of the underworld, who took Persephone prisoner. A less likely god than this lazy peasant is hard to imagine. -

14. Reread sections 32 and 40 to see why Jewel was Addie's burden. As Addie's son by Whitfield, Jewel was living proof of her sin, forcing her to do what she hated most of all- lie. Because of him, she had Dewey Dell and Vardaman in order to make amends to Anse. Jewel was a difficult child, too. But the most crushing blow of all was the rejection she felt when he bought his horse.

He became her "salvation" after her death in two spectacular scenes (sections 36 and 50). He also sacrificed his most prized possession, his horse, for the mules that pulled her corpse to Jefferson.

[As I Lay Dying Contents]


    1. Write about As I Lay Dying as a tragicomedy- a work of art that combines elements of tragedy and comedy, and usually ends happily. -
    2. In what ways is As I Lay Dying an extended tall tale? Note how it fits into the tradition of American folk humor. -
    3. Explain how As I Lay Dying is a tour de force- a work of art that allows the writer to show off his technical expertise? Give specific examples. -
    4. Demonstrate how Faulkner's mastery of the folk idiom- the way country folk talk- adds to the humor, pathos, and believability of the novel, and to the reader's enjoyment of it.

    1. Discuss the novel as a portrait of a failed marriage and its consequences. Compare Anse and Addie's marriage to those of the Armstids, Samsons, and Tulls. -
    2. Contrast Jewel's bent toward action with Anse's ineffectual reliance on words. Use specific examples. -
    3. Write Addie's biography in the form of a newspaper obituary, listing her accomplishments as well as her disappointments. Note also her philosophy of life and the part it played in guiding her thoughts and actions. -
    4. Compare the characters and actions of Cora, Dewey Dell, and Addie with those of the fertility goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Show where the stories merge and where they part. -
    5. Explain how Faulkner elicits sympathy for characters who most people would recoil from in real life.

    1. Discuss the novel as a portrait of a family under stress. Note, with examples, what that stress is, and how it forces the Bundrens to reveal themselves. -
    2. Discuss five major themes of As I Lay Dying and explain why readers so often disagree over the novel's meaning. Note the role the book's structure plays in permitting alternative interpretations. -
    3. "[Man's] tragedy," Faulkner once said, "is the impossibility- or at least the tremendous difficulty- of communication." Demonstrate how As I Lay Dying supports this view.

    1. Faulkner does not tell his story in strict chronological order. Explain what this book gains by his refusal to present events in the order in which they happened. Give specific examples. -
    2. Compare the language and imagery in Jewel's monologue (section 4) with the language and imagery in Dewey Dell's third monologue (section 30). How are they alike? How are they different? -
    3. Discuss Faulkner's use of objective correlatives- objects, situations, or chains of events that suggest particular emotions. Note his use of animals, dreams, myths, and recalled experience, among other things, as objective correlatives.

THE STORY, continued

ECC [As I Lay Dying Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

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